Halloween’s roots don’t involve candy

For the CDTOctober 19, 2012 

Ahhh, it’s that wonderful time of year again. That’s right, Halloween: the haunted houses, the costume parties — not to mention the pumpkin-, ghost- and bat-shaped chocolates. (That’s my favorite part.) Halloween is more than just candy and orange lights, however.

The holiday actually has an intricate history that reaches back 2,000 years to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. Back then, the Celtic new year began on Nov. 1, which was the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. This change was associated with death, and the Celts believed that the night before the new year was a time when the worlds of the living and the dead could mingle. Dressing in costume was one of the many traditions of Samhain, which was held on Oct. 31.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, some of their festivals and traditions became linked with Samhain, and when Christianity spread, it exercised its power over many pagan festivals and assimilated them into Christian culture, eventually giving rise to All Hallows Eve — that is, Halloween. Of course, I’m leaving out most of the story, but many books have been written on the subject.

Over the next couple of weeks, you can find many Halloween or autumn events going on around the region. Here’s just a sampling:

• The Penn State Arboretum’s Pumpkin Festival will run through Oct. 20. Pumpkins will be given to the first 750 people who want to enter the jack-o-lantern contest. The jack-o-lanterns will be displayed in the arboretum garden on the evenings of Oct. 19-20, and light refreshments will be available.

I went to this last year. It was impressive to see the creativity many people have for pumpkin carving, and it was eerily festive to see 750 pumpkins glowing in the dark. If you’re not one of the first 750 to get a free pumpkin, you can still enter the contest by providing your own. Visit http://arboretum.psu.edu/EVENTS/indexpumpevent2012.html.

On Oct. 20 and 21, it’s all aboard a restored 1940s-era passenger train for the Bellefonte Fall Foliage Train Rides from Talleyrand Park. Destinations vary, and so do ride times, depending on whether you do the Pleasant Gap, Lemont, Sayer’s Dam or Tyrone trip. Visit www.bellefontetrain.org.

The Haunted Theatre Ghost Tour will be held at the State Theatre from Oct. 29-31. I’m not sure whether the theatre is haunted only on Halloween or this is an everyday occurrence, but the tour is apparently not appropriate for children younger than 8 — or me. Visit http://thestatetheatre.org/uncategorized/the-haunted-theatre-ghost-tour.

The Centre County Public Safety Training Center will hold its Haunted House “Towers of Terror” Oct. 19-20. This tour is for older children and adults. Proceeds will benefit the State College Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services.

Sherry Coven can be reached at cdtweekender@centredaily.com.

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